Battle ended at Kwajalein (2-7-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (February 7, 1944)

In Marshalls –
Battle ended at Kwajalein

Record number of Japs captured by Yanks
By William F. Tyree, United Press staff writer


Kwajalein, Marshall Islands – (Feb. 4, delayed)
Japan sacrificed 7,000 troops in the brief U.S. campaign against Kwajalein Atoll without exacting even a token toll from the U.S. force, it was estimated today.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii –
Victorious U.S. Marines and Army troops, completing the occupation of Kwajalein Atoll in the heart of the Marshalls, were today reported rounding up the largest number of Jap prisoners taken in any campaign since the start of the Pacific War.

Navy Seabees and Army construction engineers were already repairing the atoll’s two airfields and a seaplane base that Maj. Gen. Willis H. Hale, commander of the U.S. 7th Air Force, implied would be a powerful aerial offensive against the Caroline Islands, possibly including Truk, Japan’s “Pearl Harbor.”

Three strongholds taken

Official reports indicated that the 4th Marine and 7th Army Divisions had occupied all major islands and islets in the 66-mile-long atoll and only a few isolated coral formations, none held in any strength, remained to be mopped up.

The fall of the last three strongholds, Gugegwe, Bigej and Ebler Islands, all at the southern end of the atoll, after the quelling of “moderate resistance,” was announced in a communiqué yesterday by Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet.

U.S. casualties light

More than 2,000 Japs were believed to have been killed in the capture of the atoll, Japan’s strongest air and naval base east of Truk. U.S. casualties were not announced immediately, but a front dispatch said the Americans killed 40 Japs for every man they lost.

Maj. Gen. Harry Schmidt, commander of the Marines, described the American casualties as light in comparison with 1,200 killed in the capture of Tarawa last November.

Richard W. Johnston, United Press correspondent aboard the joint expeditionary force flagship, estimated the number of Jap prisoners taken as the largest yet seized in the Pacific War, a sign of growing Jap reluctance to fight to the end for the Emperor.

Another United Press correspondent, Charles Arnot, reported from Kwajalein Island that U.S. Army troops there used loudspeakers in the last stages of the campaign to urge the Japs to surrender.

Meet with success

Mr. Arnot said:

The appeals met with considerable success.

The last strong enemy resistance in the atoll ended Friday with the capture of Kwajalein Island, largest in the atoll and administrative center for the whole Marshall group, just 78 hours after the initial landing.

Overrun quickly

Ebeye Island, site of a seaplane base, Loi, and finally Gugegwe, Bigej, Eller and several additional undefended islets were then overrun in rapid succession. All were at the southeastern corner of the atoll.

Tokyo broadcasts claimed that “intense fighting” was still raging yesterday on Kwajalein Island and said two U.S. destroyers had been sunk, another destroyed and a cruiser set afire.

A Jap communiqué said a Jap submarine sank a large U.S. cruiser near Wotje Atoll in the Marshalls at dawn last Wednesday.

Gen. Hale told Malcolm R. Johnson, United Press correspondent at the 7th Air Force advanced base, that the capture of Kwajalein put every Jap base on the Carolines as far west as Truk, 938 miles away, within American bombing range.

RAdm. John S. Hoover, U.S. air commander in the Central Pacific, said planes from the Kwajalein airfields would prevent all air or sea aid from reaching the remaining enemy-held islands in the Marshalls, dooming their garrison to starvation even if they were never invaded by the Americans.

New raids made

New raids by 7th Air Force Mitchell medium and Liberator heavy bombers and carried-based planes Saturday on the bypassed atolls of the Marshalls, as well as others to the west, were disclosed in announcements at Pacific Fleet headquarters.

The attacks included one by varied-based planes on Ujelang Atoll, less than 250 miles from the nearest Carolines and the deepest penetration yet of Japan’s mandated empire. Ujelang lies 600 mules east of Truk.

All planes returned safely and no fighter opposition was encountered.